LAist Interview: Russell Mael of Sparks
Photo of Ron (foreground) and Russell Mael courtesy of Republic Media
Since their emergence at the beginning of the 1970s, Sparks has been an outsider act. But while commercial success has only struck a handful of times in the course of their twenty-one albums, everyone who grew up during that time seems to know who they are. There’s something about the sight of Ron Mael, the sinister, Chaplinesque accountant stoically rocking out behind the keyboard, that once seen is not easily forgotten. Of all the musicians in the world Paul McCartney could have picked to impersonate in his all-star band for the 1980 Coming Up video, Mael not only made the cut, his Fab doppelganger is easily the funniest and most memorable in the clip. When guys who used to be in the Beatles are making fun of you, you've made it.
Accompanied by his brother Russell on vocals, a prancer with a high falsetto and a penchant for motormouthing like a modern major general, they’ve always stood out. Had they ever been part of any particular “movement” within rock, it’s hard to imagine what on earth the other bands would have been like. The albums produced in their mid-seventies peak sound like musical comedy as adapted for the glam era, with burly guitars, cryptic/ funny lyrics worthy of Steely Dan and a relentless, over-caffeinated energy.
Fans of the very peculiar thing they do will be gathering en masse at UCLA’s Royce Hall this Saturday, as the band will be making one of their relatively rare LA appearances. They’ll be doing their new album, Exotic Creatures Of The Deep, in its entirety, which is no surprise as they’ve done the same thing for each of their last three albums in 2000, 2004 and 2006 respectively. Clearly, this is a group that takes context very seriously.
What is unusual, however, is that they’ll also be playing the complete album widely considered to be their masterpiece, 1974’s Kimono My House. While not totally unprecedented - the band did complete a staggering twenty-one show run in London featuring each of their albums in chronological order last year, besides having revived it for Morrissey's curation of the Meltdown Festival in 2004 - this could be the only time they’ll ever do it in the States. So if a revved-up Amateur Hour sounds like just the thing to put you in the mood to practice up for Valentine’s Day, we suggest you have a sick sense of humor but still advise attending.